This is a preview of this month’s legal corner article which will be published on January 27, 2016.
“Uniqueness is what makes you the most beautiful.”
~ Lea Michele
I was re-reading one of the late Stephen Covey’s books and a story caught my eye. The story is about what he calls a “paradigm shift”, but that’s too complicated for me. I just call it “perspective” or “how you look at the world”.
Picture Covey riding peacefully on a subway reading his newspaper. His peaceful ride was interrupted when a father and his three young children got on the train. The kids were running up and down, yelling, throwing things. Covey was annoyed at the kids and, even more, at the father who was allowing them to carry on.
After several minutes, Covey asked the father if he could control his children a little more. The man lifted his gaze and said softly, “Oh, you’re right. I guess I should do something about it. We just came from the hospital where their mother died about an hour ago. I don’t know what to think, and I guess they don’t know how to handle it either.”
Can you imagine what Covey thought at that moment? In an instant, his perspective – his view of this man’s world – changed. This new information made him think differently, feel differently and behave differently.
In my elder law practice, I have noticed over the years that our society has become desensitized about growing old and many people have a flawed view of the elderly. They see the elderly as “generic” people – like they are all the same.
It is not uncommon for my law office to deal with clients who are well into their 80’s, 90’s and even some over 100 years old. Let me tell you, no matter the age they don’t consider themselves “elderly”, they consider themselves a person who happens to be a certain age. And each person is unique and has his or her own stories.
Consider Max, who is 90 years old and who was married to his wife, Sandy, for 64 years.
His eyes brighten as he talks about his first job and ripping open his first paycheck. He remembers his hands gripping the steering wheel the first time he was allowed to drive the family car alone.
Max recalls his first dog, Abby, and how she followed him everywhere. And he remembers hugging Abby as she took her last breath, because the vet said putting her to sleep was the only option.
He proudly reminisces about walking to the podium to receive his college degree, the first one in his family to do so.
His graduation ceremony evokes other memories, including a road trip to Florida with his college buddies, Stan and Eddie. “I’m the only one left”, he whispers.
Max is reverent and humble when he talks about his wife, Sandy, who has been gone for 6 years. He is almost in a trance as he flashes back to their first date, falling in love, dancing in the kitchen, getting married, raising their daughter.
He is somber when he talks about his service in World War II. He remembers bombs and bullets and friends who never made it home. “Too many didn’t come back”, he says.
Max talks about “ice cream dates” that he used to have with his only daughter, and how he told her he wouldn’t cry when he walked her down the aisle. “But I did”, he says, a wry smile creasing his face.
He talks about his grandchildren and how the whole family went on vacation up north, swimming, fishing, playing.
He recalls with pride the top salesman award he earned at his company for five straight years.
You can sense Max’s heartache when he recounts his health problems that resulted in him moving out of the home he loved after 52 years.
Can you imagine having your car keys taken away? Or being told you can no longer live on your own? Or that you must move out of the home that you built with your own hands?
That was Max after his wife died and his health started to deteriorate.
Today, Max is living in an assisted living community with over 70 other men and women.
If you entered the foyer and walked past Max sitting in his wheelchair, you may be tempted to see him as “another old man”.
He is not.
He is unique, just like you and I are unique.
The next time you see a “Max”, I challenge you to see him from a different perspective, a different world view.
He is a person who had parents, a brother, sisters, a daughter, a wife. He has fallen in love, had a broken heart, seen his daughter and grandchildren grow up, seen his friends and loved ones die, and still, even today, has hopes and dreams.
When you see Max as unique, you will change your perspective, like Stephen Covey on the subway. In an instant, you will think differently, feel differently and behave differently. And that perspective is exactly what Max has earned, and what he deserves.
Glenn Matecun is a founder of the law firm of Matecun, Thomas & Olson, PLC in Howell. He is an estate planning and elder law attorney, and is accredited by the Department of Veterans Affairs. His website, www.MichiganEstatePlans.com, is packed with helpful information and action plans for anyone dealing with estate planning, elder law, nursing home, probate or Veterans’ benefits issues. You can email him at email@example.com or call (517) 548-7400 for a free consultation.